Best of 2017: Theater/Live Performance

warholcapote

by Andrew Osborne

A good theater year for me these days is simply seeing enough live shows to fill a Top Five list.  A great year is when all the shows are as noteworthy as those listed below:

1. WARHOLCAPOTE (American Repertory Theater)

Dramatist Rob Roth edited 80 hours of taped conversations between fascinating pop culture icons Andy Warhol and Truman Capote down to an 80-minute two-hander I’d have been happy to watch for at least twice that running time.  Stephen Spinella (as Andy) and Dan Butler (as Truman) channel their characters with such eerily spot-on precision that it really does feel like you’re eavesdropping on one of the most interesting conversations of the 20th century as the oddest of odd couples banter about sex, love, art, fame, disco, Liza, loneliness, Tennessee Williams, and the limits of Humphrey Bogart’s horniness.

2. BARNUM (Moonbox Productions at the Calderwood Pavilion, BCA)

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I haven’t seen Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman yet, partly because it looks like a big, bloated spectacle scored to a soulless, overproduced soundtrack but mostly because Mark Bramble already told the tale in a charming, fast-paced 1980 stage version (with exceptionally catchy show tunes and lyrics by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart) and also because I was fortunate enough to catch this small-scale, high energy, endlessly inventive revival of Bramble’s show at The Boston Center for the Arts — a timely tribute to the good old days when Barnum’s style of humbugging suckers was for entertainment purposes only.

3. MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (Huntington Theatre Company)

It’s easy to see why this ambitious musical flopped with critics and audiences during its original 1981 Broadway run.  As always, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and melodies are clever and catchy (particularly the title song and the running theme earwig “Old Friends”), yet the book (by George Furth, based on a 1934 play by Kaufman and Hart) never quite succeeds in convincing us why becoming rich and successful is so very, very tragic for its central trio of ambitious show folk.  Nevertheless, the Huntington’s likable, high-energy company made it easy to forget and forgive the show’s flaws (while also setting up a happy shock of recognition for viewers of Greta Gerwig’s 2017 indie hit Ladybird as an unexpected bonus).

4. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (SpeakEasy Stage Company)

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Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel about a British teen attempting to solve the murder of a local dog was an unexpected delight as well as an early mainstream exploration of the autism spectrum inhabited by the story’s protagonist, Christopher.  And while Simon Stephens’s admittedly clever theatrical adaptation is sometimes a bit too overwrought and busy, the SpeakEasy’s production nevertheless stuck the landing thanks to an outstanding performances by Eliott Purcell as the show’s endearing adolescent sleuth.

5. ROCKERZINE‘S ROCK AND ROLL TRIVIA (Rotating Venues)

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Sure, it’s not exactly theater, but Rockerzine’s Rock and Roll Trivia (most recently hosted by Once in Somerville and scheduled for at least one encore there in early 2018) is one of the best interactive live shows in the greater Boston area thanks to the charisma, chemistry, and deep-cut clue-giving of co-hosts (and local scene legends) Erin Amar and Brett Milano.

HONORABLE MENTION:  Amadeus Live, a screening of the classic Miloš Forman film at Boston’s Symphony Hall with the soundtrack performed live by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Handel and Haydn Society thanks to the wonders of modern technology and 18th century instrumentation.

And RIP, Thomas Derrah:  theater in 2018 won’t be the same without you!

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